Shards Online and Citadel Studios are ready to embark on the next big phase of the game's development by moving from pre-alpha to alpha and then to Steam Early Access not long after. This weekend, players who have had a key at any time in the past will see it reactivated to be able to jump into the game from Friday, September 23rd through early Monday, September 26th to see what's new -- and it is a lot. We had the chance to speak with Derek Brinkmann to learn the scoop behind the latest build.
First the Community Events
During this special alpha preview weekend, a number of activities and special stream events will be taking place. On Friday, DocGotGame will be playing alongside developers and Saturday, the MMORPG.com Twitch channel will be taken over with Citadel staff and our own RipperX.
Saturday will also see the best opportunity for players to take part in some fun activities designed to show off the game and to build a real sense of community. There will be double XP all day, special PvP events, a scavenger hunt and, best of all, a naked fun run to see who the ultimate survivor will be. It seems like a great day to check in with what Derek Brinkmann calls a whole new experience.
What's In Store?
During the weekend, players will be able to explore a number of new features that are being added in preparation for the forthcoming alpha. Derek took some time to talk about several.
The Allegiance System
The Shards alpha build will include the new Allegiance System where players and guilds can choose to align with one of the two (so far!) gods in the game: Fire or Water. Doing so places players in one of the in-game factions. If a player is, for example, part of Water, Fire members can attack without NPC interference and vice versa.
"It's a way for guilds to join a conflict that's bigger than themselves." Derek explained. "It's also a way for crafters to gain access to special item recipes that can only be found in one faction or the other."
More gods will be added over time as well as special player benefits unique to each.
PvP & Lessons Learned
During a previous preview weekend, a large PvP-centric and well known "ganking" guild was invited to join in. Unfortunately, Citadel learned the hard way that the system in place at the time allowed this guild to make everyone else miserable with rampant and unchecked ganking throughout the entire weekend. As a result, changes have been made prior to this weekend's event.
"We have a criminal system now." Derek said. "It was inspired by Ultima Online's system with all players starting as Neutral. Those attacking others will be flagged as an Aggressor and will be vulnerable to attack by any other players. Continued unwarranted attacks will see them flagged as a Murderer, a tag that takes a long time to go away, and that allows anyone, players or NPCs, to attack. Life will be a little bit harder for gankers."
Interface & UI
The interface in Shards Online has been spruced up immeasurably since the last time we checked in. "We've spent a lot of time putting that level of polish on the game." Derek said. "We are going for a AAA look for an indie-developed game."
Things that have been added include a radar map that shows all group members on the small and world maps, an improved and expanded guild interface, better bag management, sorting of items in bags, a much more intuitive crafting interface, a skill tracker with clear visuals on progress towards new skills, and much more.
"Combat felt a bit flat and that there were only a few viable builds. We have spent a lot of time in events nailing down exactly why and how to fix it. Armor now has a lot of presence in the game and we've got eighteen spells now including the new first aid spell that allows bandaging in combat." Derek explained.
Caster combat has, in particular, been given some love with much flashier and interesting graphics. Different spells will write an alchemic element symbol on the ground for a really cool animation.
What MMO is complete without the ability to fish? Players can buy a pole from an NPC and get started right away, though there are also craftable poles as well and even a 'golden' fishing pole that gives a special bonus. Once the fishing skill is trained, players can head to the waters where two different skills will be utilized to catch fish: Casting and Reeling In. Both have to be successful in order for a fish to be caught and it can escape at any point during either.
What to look out for in fishing? The Golden Aether Fish with its one in ten thousand odds of being caught.
New Map - the Prizm Lounge
Backers at the $75+ level will have a special hideaway map called the Prizm Lounge that will be a relaxing, futuristic map that comes complete with a spacesuit required for entry. Inside Prizm, players can imbibe special drinks that can pack a wallop, DJ music straight from their computers into the ears of other partiers, grab special quests found only in Prizm and much more. There is even a god that party-goers can meet.
Lastly, Alpha & Beyond
The last thing we discussed before signing out is when the Shards Online alpha might begin. Derek's words describe it best:
This will be a lot easier to answer next week after the preview build weekend. We think we’re ready. There’s only a few features left for alpha (UI windows, secure trading, enchantment system, baby dragon familiar, permadeath) and then we’re there. We think about a month after the preview build but feedback might say otherwise or we might find issues. Our goal is to be out well before the holidays."
"Steam EA - will include Celedor expansion (making the game app much larger). Mounts and ranged weapons will come between alpha and EA. About 4 months after alpha launch. We want to launch when we’re ready to launch."
So there you have it! The special Shards Online weekend is set to kick off on Friday, September 23rd in the morning Pacific time. Will you be there?